A Brand New Fence

Sunday morning was beautiful, crisp and sunny: perfect weather for fixing the fence.

The first part of the fence had been fixed earlier in the semester and stood up wonderfully against the wind, rain, and our first snow. Inspired by our success, we finished the fence on Sunday. First, we dug holes for poles and buried the base as solidly as we could, then we took our roll of slatted fencing and attached them to the poles, tying them with twine to enforce them.

Our garden now has a clear perimeter, making all the beds easily accessible by comfortably wide paths, which will make work in the spring much easier. The fence itself looks amazing! It now stands tall and will not fall over easily. We also decided that the garden only needs to have one gate, which is located by the shed.

We also opened up the hoop house to let in a little sunlight, and were amazed to find that the temperature inside the house was close to 100 degrees! The radishes looked great and some were definitely ready to be harvested.

The composting bins were fixed so that hopefully, we’ll no longer find any nasty small animal surprises in there. It is important to note that the lids need to be twisted before they can be removed from the bin, and if they are not coming off, they should not be yanked on because that will cause the middle layer of the bin to pop off the bottom part. We also checked on the winter rye, which has begun to sprout in one of the beds.

We talked about possibly working towards getting a real fence, because as wonderful as this new fence is, it is still temporary. One idea was to apply to TCU for a grant to fund the construction a permanent fence.

All in all, it was a fantastic day in the garden. We accomplished exactly what we set out to do, and we now have an amazing fence that makes our garden look more organized and lovely.

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The New Garden Group

A couple weeks ago the garden club had a critical discussion about the existing structure.

What was in place:

Two “co-heads” that ran meetings, dealt with administration, facilitated decision-making and sent emails. Members would come to meetings to have discussions about what had been done, ideas for what we should do, and plans for the next meeting or project.

Problems people identified with that system:

  • communication was ineffective
  • people rarely showed up to help with projects
  • initiatives were rarely completed
  • a lot of weight fell on very few people

We began the restructuring meeting with a round of “What is your goal for the garden?” Goals could be as idealistic or concrete as the speaker wanted. Some of the results:

  • Have cohesive group events
  • Get a real fence
  • Have a potluck
  • Create a greater presence on campus
  • Plant some things
  • More exploration activities/skill shares
  • Work on the watering schedule infrastructure- google spreadsheet
  • More effective communication
  • Start scheduled harvests
  • Have a community outreach component
  • Get people to actually show up and help out- community building
  • Have some garden skill shares to learn about gardening
  • Expand garden to more parts of campus
  • Come together and create garden plan for spring
  • Have a garden “training day”
  • Connect more with resources on campus- more partnerships
  • Research topics to share knowledge, planting schedules
  • Make an info sign and number the beds
  • Take inventory of the seeds we have
  • Institute dues?

We then discussed possible approaches to realizing these goals. We settled on the following structure:

Secretary – takes notes at meetings, sends out meetings, announcements, and reminders. Currently Micaela Belles with Stefanie Yeung apprenticing

Tufts Sustainability Collective liaison – attends weekly TSC meetings, relays information between the two groups, acts as Treasurer since this person will see the TSC Treasurer weekly. Currently Mae Humiston with Liz Stockton apprenticing

Meeting Facilitator: Sets agenda and guides meetings. Currently Alex Freedman. Anyone can offer to facilitate a meeting if they’d like to.

Working groups:

Construction: Headed by Ivan Rasmussen

  • Finds materials (recycled, salvaged, or store-bought)
  • Designs and works on work on shelves, fence, raised beds, etc.
  • Organizes construction days

“Seasonal” group: Headed by Stefanie Yeung and Perri Meldon

  • Researches information concerning winterization, watering schedules, gardening methods, plant properties, etc.
  • Brings this information to weekly meetings

Community Outreach: Headed by Minh Leu

  • Works with community groups including Eagle Eye Institute
  • Organizes events and opportunities for garden club members to get involved with like-minded groups outside the garden

Social team: Headed by Suzanne Lis

  • Organizes social events such as potlucks and group dinners/picnics

Harvest team: Headed by Liz Stockton

  • Monitors garden production
  • Informs group of harvest days/times
  • Distributes harvested produce

Each working group should have its own meetings or e-list to decide initiatives and approaches, and is responsible for letting the rest of the group know their plans and results and posting their progress on the blog. Working groups can call on entire group to help in initiatives.

We also decided to institute semester dues of $5. This $5, in addition to helping pay for garden costs, gives the payer a vested interest in the garden. We hope this will lead to more people being committed to the garden and turning out for work days and meetings. People with financial concerns can talk to the Secretary to work something out. Dues will begin Spring 2012.

Additionally, we have a Facebook group to help with planning and advertizing events.

Finally, we are trying to have consistent weekly work days. The timing of these is yet to be decided.

We are currently working with this structure and we have already found issues with it but hopefully continual self-reflection will help Tom Thumb’s Student Garden continue to be a sustainable Tufts group.

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Collards to Keep the Cold Away

Last night was the first snow of the year, and as the residual flakes melt away in the cool autumn sun today, I needed something hearty and warm to comfort my soul in mourning of summer’s end.

Earlier this week, we harvested our collard green plants and pulled up the remaining stalks to make room in the hoop house for some kale. Because collards are sort of outside the typical college student cooking repertoire, I ended up with a trash bag full of it, and what better on a cold day than to make braised collards and qunioa!?

For those unfamiliar with collard greens, they are a member of the Brassica family (read: broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, etc.) and provide large hearty green leaves commonly used in cuisines of West Africa, Portuguese-speaking countries and the US South. And quinoa is a protein and fiber-rich “ancient” grain from South America, which has seen a culinary renaissance in the last years, making it more available in mainstream markets.

Below are the recipes for both – hopefully they bring you warmth and nourishment on a cold day, too!

Kickin’ Collard Greens with Quinoa

Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients:

- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 slices bacon (alternatively, for vegetarians, wild mushrooms might be a great choice)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 pound fresh collard greens, cut into 2-inch pieces

- 2 cups dried quinoa
- 3 cups liquid (water, chicken or vegetable stock, or both)

For Collards:

1.     Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon, and cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, crumble and return to the pan. Add onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until just fragrant. Add collard greens, and fry until they start to wilt.

2.    Pour in chicken broth, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until greens are tender.

For Quinoa:

You’ll need a 4 quart pot with a tight fitting lid, and a fine mesh strainer

1) Optional: Soak the quinoa for 5 min in the cooking pot. Soaking helps quinoa to cook evenly, and loosens up any residue of saponin (usually removed in processing), which can give a bitter taste. Most quinoa sold in the US these days has been cleaned, and steamed to remove the saponin, so don’t worry about that overly much.

To Rinse: Stir the quinoa with your hand, and carefully pour off the rinsing water, using a fine mesh strainer at the last

2) Drain quinoa well in the strainer, transfer to the cooking pot, add 3 cups liquid

3) Bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid, and turn the heat down to simmer

4) Cook for 15 minutes

5) Remove quinoa from heat and allow to sit five minutes with the lid on

6) Fluff quinoa gently with a fork and add to pot of collards when done

7) Mix and allow to sit for a few minutes, then serve!

Adapted from recipes at Allrecipes.com and SavvyVegetarian.com

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Garden Winterization (Part 1): Hoop House

Going into the garden’s first winter, we decided to investigate different methods of winterizing the garden, and, in this case, prolonging the growing season. One common technique is a structure called a hoop house. With an appearance similar to the Iroquois longhouses of the past, this PVC pipe and plastic sheeting structure acts like a greenhouse, insulating its contents from the dramatic temperature outside. While not able to extend the growing season through the entire winter, our research has found testimonies of being able to grow cold-hardy crops (leafy greens, root vegetables, etc.) into February!

Now, finally, after over a month of construction, the hoop house is complete! Inside we have radishes, cilantro, and Toscano kale (recently seeded) growing. The real test of its structural worth will be when we check on it in a few days (considering that it snowed last night and temperatures are expected to dip into freezing for the next few days.)

This structure, with its impeccable construction and incredible engineered stability, believe it or not was the first one we ever built, and it wasn’t even that hard!!! Below are instructions for how we did it!

Materials (all available at Home Depot!):
- 4  10 ft. x 1/2 in. pvc pipes (available in the plumbing department)
- 3.5mm plastic sheeting (available in painting supply section)
- 8 1/2 brass pipe brackets
- Wood screws (length dependent on surface they’re drilled into)
- Scissors
- Measuring tape
- Staple gun
- Additional able-bodied, coordinated individuals

Instructions:

*All of these instructions are based on the dimensions of our garden bed, which is approximately 4 ft x 8 ft (we never measured.) Accordingly, the lengths of your PVC should be adjusted – take the half-circumference and add a foot on each side.

1) Ideally the brackets would be evenly spaced and matched the the ones across the bed, but we didn’t really do that. We trust out eyeballs. We started by drilling each brackets (4 on each side) half way into place. This was important, because if screwed all the way in, the pipes would not fit in.

2) Fit the PVC pipes into the brackets created four parallel arcs. From there, screw the brackets the rest of the way in.

3) Once you have the skeleton (it reminded me of a whale skeleton….don’t ask me why) – now is the time to measure out your plastic. You want it wide enough to go all the way over the arc with 6 extra inches from the top of the bed to where the plastic hangs; and long enough that when folding in the excess (like you were wrapping a hoop house-shaped present,) it about touches the ground.

4) Once it is measured and draped over the structure in the way you wish, it’s time to attach the plastic! This is where we got held up for weeks, because we lacked access the a stable gun. If you can think of more creative and/or less permanent ways to attach the plastic, please be my guest. Everything I learned was from YouTube, so it’s pretty easy to find. On one long side (the side where the brackets attach) fold the plastic edge under itself by a few inches. Using your staple gun, put a row of staples along the bottom edge, about 6 inches apart, making sure to hold the plastic taught so there are no creases or flabby folds (this is like plastic surgery.) Once complete, add a second row of stable above the first near the top of the bed’s side board, again, assuring taughtness.

5) Go to the other side (and this is where extra hands help) and pull the plastic fairly taught, then repeat the first sides actions. For BOTH sides, I would recommend putting at least the first staple in the middle first, to assure you are not lopsidedly stapling the plastic. Taughtness is important so that rain and debris does not collect on the top of the hoop house, but note that without the ends being pulled taught, also, it may not appear to be as taught as it will be. Don’t pull it so taught that it threatens the integrity of the plastic. A tear would be counter to the idea of sealing in warmth.

6) Now’s the easy (or hard) part. We labored over how to close up the ends, because you want it to be a fairly tight seal to keep in warmth, but also have it be accessible to reach inside. We talked about trying to attached zippers or velcro, but eventually just ended up using two large cinder blocks on each side. As I said earlier, fold the ends of the plastic down as though you were wrapping a present, and then use the cinder blocks to keep them in place.

Then, TAH DAH! You have a hoop house!

We’ll see how successful ours is and keep you posted. There was even talk of dressing up our hoop house for the holidays – cute. Happy winter gardening!

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Our first skill share

On October 5th, Devyn and Jake represented the garden club at the on-campus Farmers’ Market (Wednesdays 11:30am-1:30pm on the lower Campus Center Patio) behind a table inviting people to come plant herbs for the winter in recycled containers:

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Fall recipe from Jacob

Sweet Acorn Squash~

Ingredients:
Acorn squash
butter
brown sugar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350
Spray cookie sheet with non-stick spray
Cut whole Acorn Squash in half.
Scoop and scrape out the seeds and fibers.
Lay squash cut side down on cookie sheet
Bake for 40 minutes
Remove from oven and turn squash over with tongs
place a tablespoon of butter and brown sugar in each acorn half.
Return squash (butter side up)  to oven to bake for 10 more minutes (or until soft to fork).
Enjoy!
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A growing garden

In my last post I promised I’d put up pictures of the completed raised beds built for use this semester in the Sustainable Food Systems Ex-College class. Well between that moment and right now- we’ve also received a truck-full of soil from Cambridge Bark and Loam, built a hoop house (that I hope Alex and Carolyn will write more about), cleaned up the garden a little, and planted some yumyums.

The Sustainable Food Systems Class’ raised beds, constructed Saturday, September 17th and filled with soil Thursday, September 22nd:

3 of the 4 finished raised beds built with stacked 2x4s and Ikea bed slats

The next Monday (when the class is held), they planted some seeds, labeling the frame as they went.

Sustainable Food Systems Class bed- identifying their plants (French Breakfast Radishes here) by writing on the frame itself

The next time I took my camera to the garden, they had sprouted!

Sustainable Food Systems Class's raised beds with sprouts in the foreground, hoop house frame in the back

Also in that time Alex and Carolyn led the construction of a hoop house:

Sketchy night photo of the (almost) completed hoop house!

Radishes, collards, and something seeded in-between (someone help me out here) in the hoop house bed!

And when we got the soil to move into the beds we also cut the grass around the garden to use it as mulch and transplanted some radishes:

Either the beets or the radishes (I don't remember which) in bed with a melon plant

And we applauded our peas:

Yeah, we're trying to grow peas in the fall. It's working. We're winning.

But we still have more soil, more wood for another raised bed, and even a couple existing open spots in beds if someone wants to plant something!

We've got an open small bed. What should we plant?

What’s coming up?

-Planting herbs in recycled containers for winter growing skill share on Wednesday, Oct 5 at the Farmers’ Market 11:30 – 1:30, lower Campus Center patio. If you wanna help out, just show up! Bring some recycled containers if you can!

-Liam’s lookin to make some cider. Let him know (liam.walshmellett@gmail.com)  if you find any solid wood (2×4′s or bigger) that we can fashion a simple press out of- or if you just wanna help out! Might be scroungin for apples tomorrow, Oct 2!

-We need to put up some shelves and hook in the shed so things are organized! Again- if you find any wood scraps, shelf braces, or hooks, let me know (mae.humiston@tufts.edu)! We’ll probably try to install at least a couple of shelves on Columbus Day.

-People are on watering schedule. If you want to help out with that, contact perri_s.meldon@tufts.edu. Or just contact her because she’s super cool and you should probably want to meet her.

-If you do anything or even just check in on the garden, write it in the log! It’s a testament to all the work we put into this little patch! We’re going to try to scan some of the pages to put up on the blog soon!

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Fried Green Tomatoes

photos courtesy of Hallie Gluk

While pruning back the behemoth tomatoes, I discovered some baby cherry tomatoes. I fried some up for the Crafts House, a co-op that serves free vegetarian dinners every night at 6 (You should go!) Since I am gluten intolerant the result was highly experimental. I used an egg, some milk & apple cider vinegar ( a good way to DIY buttermilk), and corn meal. The result was pretty yummy.

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Farming around the world

This summer, I spent six weeks working on organic farms in Italy through WWOOF, an organization that allows members to find work on farms around the world. I stayed on 4 different farms, and each provided me with a unique learning experience. I was joined on the first farm by Ian MacLellan, who took some of the pictures below. Some of the work was more strenuous than others, but all the farmstays introduced me to amazing mentors who were full of knowledge about farming. I highly recommend WWOOFing for anyone who wants hands on experience, to learn, and to be challenged. Check it out at: http://www.wwoof.org/

In Sassoleone, we picked cherries all day, and the youngest, Jora, feasted on them.

After a long day of baking and picking cherries the family all gets together to jar cherries before they start to go bad.

Giorgio was the owner of the first farm, and cultivates most of the fields himself with apricot trees, figs, and honey. He also has a collection of chickens, geese, and rabbit for his bar in town and while we were there he slaughtered 21 cocks and one hen. Here his wife and another friend clean and prepare the animals in his workshop. The smell reminded me of the grinding and burning of teeth at the dentist… Giorgio is essentially a father and grandfather to the family and constantly stops his own work to take care of the kids or guide in gardening technique.

Transplanting seedlings while chatting with one of the farmers, Clara.

A storm approaches.

The teepee in the forest, where I lived with the six other wwoofers on my last farm.

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Some Food Made with Garden Goods!

Sooooo I am bit late on blogging but I some examples of what can/ has been made with garden.

The first thing I enjoyed was the spring crop of salad greens we had. We got a spicy spicy mix from High Mowing Seed Company, and spicy it was. A fair amount of mustardy, bitter, and zesty greens were in there. But using some sweet mustard/balsamic dressing and strawberries sweetened them up to make a delicious salad:

spicy mustard greens salad, sweetened up with strawberries

Next, harvested in late August, came the Holy Mole peppers! A new seed strain, these are pretty mild, and not actually used traditionally to make mole ( yum yum) but they can be!

I am leaving the peppers outside right now, trying to ripen them a little bit more. I picked them when they were green/ brown, but I think a little bit more brown would be good

Southern Grits with Holy Mole peppers and cheddar

In order to enjoy the fruits of our labor sooner I fried up some chopped peppers with a lot of sea salt and some olive oil. Then I added these spicy treasures to traditional southern grits with some cheddar. Now that’s a good breakfast.

Next up….MOLE! I’ll be tuning you in with a simple recipe I found later.

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